By Raha Izadi, Iran (Source: Mianeh)
Just days before the news that an eight-year prison sentence had been handed down to Iranian-US journalist Roxana Saberi hit the headlines around the world, President Ahmadinejad and his close ally Esfandiyar Rahim Mashaee hosted a banquet in Tehran for 800 Iranians resident outside Iran.
With Ahmadinejad confirming his candidacy for the forthcoming presidential elections in June, the April 14 conference was widely seen as an attempt to woo voters living abroad who normally back reformist candidates.
Iranians residents from countries - including the United Kingdom, the United States, and France - attended the event at the Muslim World Leaders Conference building in Velenjak, a rich Tehran neighbourhood.
"One of our important responsibilities is to make sure the rights of Iranians are defended outside Iran. Even one single Iranian must not be hurt," the president told the conference delegates.
At the event, the problems of the Iranian diaspora were addressed in four workshops, relating to different fields, including the economy, business, culture and media.
Ahmadinejad, the main speaker at the conference, announced that as he would be travelling to the city of Kerman with the cabinet in few hours, he didn't have much time to speak. However, he assured participants he would return to hear their views before the conference ended.
According to state-run Iran News Agency, IRNA, the audience received Ahmadinejad warmly. In pictures of the conference shown on state television, guests gathered round him, and sometimes even pushed each other aside to reach out to him.
Although IRNA reported that there was a large crowd of journalists and photographers at the event, there were no pictures published in the Iranian press.
According to an announcement, all the attendees managed to have their picture taken with the president.
While Iranian news agencies reported that all the 800 participants were members of the Iranian elite and scholars living in other countries, few details of the attendees were released to the press.
A notable guest, whose presence received much press attention, was the widow of Dr Hossein Fatemi, Iran's foreign minister in the government of Dr Mohammad Mosadeq in early 1950s. She had attended the event with her son and secured a private meeting with Ahmadinejad.
During Ahmadinejad's address, 35 people asked him about issues facing Iranians abroad, leaving him only a few minutes for his speech.
Participants at the conference made many suggestions, including the creation of a fund for Iranians living abroad; the introduction of measures to address their spiritual needs; and the enhancement of ex-pats' national identity through the promotion of the Persian language and culture.
According to some news stories in the media, key problems raised by participants at the event were bureaucratic issues and legal complications faced by ex-pats.
Reports said that some Iranian medical professionals living abroad complained that their degrees have not been properly evaluated. They asked why degrees from some of the universities around the world were not acknowledged in Iran.
An Iranian resident of Australia requested that more facilities be created for Iranians living abroad, including access to mosques, and Iranian schools.
Raha Izadi is the pseudonym of a journalist in Tehran.
This article is an abridged and translated version of the full original text published on the Farsi pages of Mianeh, with editorial adjustments agreed with the writer made to provide clarity for English-language readers.
About Mianeh: Mianeh is a new independent web-based initiative run as a project by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (iwpr.net) the award-winning non-profit media development organisation that works across the globe to platform local voices and promote international learning and engagement. Mianeh aims to be an open space for ideas, news and debate where writers in Iran can reach out to each other as well as to those outside the country who are interested in learning more about the vibrant and dynamic society that is Iran today.
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